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How should we change our political process?

My general response usually comes down to encouraging more citizen involvement in seeking and supporting qualified candidates for public office at all levels.

MinnPost photo by Corey Anderson

Of late I have been asked the question, mostly from business colleagues, “What must we do to change our political process?” Other comments have underscored that the current situation seems both irrational and dysfunctional.

My general response usually comes down to encouraging more citizen involvement in seeking and supporting qualified candidates for public office at all levels. Strong political parties need to do the grunt work of building a competitive infrastructure everywhere to conduct such candidate recruitment and computerizing voter identification and get-out-the-vote efforts. Oh, and yes, each of us contributing our own money to help pay for it.

Last year, two noted professionals whom I retained years ago while at Honeywell — Michael Porter and Katherine Gehl — addressed what they called “unprecedented partisanship and gridlock” in America’s political process that seemed “incapable of delivering necessary results.”

They assessed the situation as follows:

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1) Politics as an institution behaves just like competition in private industry.

2) Politics today is rife with unhealthy competition and barriers to entry without regard to demonstrated results.

3) Our political system will not correct itself.

4) There does not currently exist a systemic way to create healthy competition, innovation and accountability necessary to make our governmental institutions meet our real needs.

Indeed, all of us are a part of the problem.

Most of us can agree that it is good when rivals compete to better serve their customers’ needs. This, of course, will likely require changes in the way our political infrastructure operates.

It is likely that local, state and national political entities have more influence on the conduct of our public business than any other groups or organizations.

Pew Research, New America and Brookings weigh in

Three years ago, Pew Research looked at how people engaged in partisan politics feel about their endeavors.

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A large majority of the public (68%) reported that “their side” in politics has been losing more often than winning on issues that matter to them. This sentiment is somewhat less pronounced among those who support the party in control of the White House than the party out of power.

Not all news is bad. Two-thirds of those surveyed (67%) expressed a favorable opinion of their local government, compared with 35% for the federal government. In addition, nearly three-quarters (73%) say the quality of candidates running for local office in recent elections has been good; just 41% say the same about the quality of presidential candidates.

Chuck Slocum
Chuck Slocum
When it comes to our political process, most of us agree that campaign spending is too high and that special interests play too great a role in our process.

New America, a Washington, D.C., think tank, studied opinions dating to the 1940s and reported that a record two of every three Americans now support the creation of a strong third party. The view was held by a majority of Democrats, Republicans and self-described Independents.

One organization has looked at all of this and offered some suggestions. The 105-year-old Brookings Institution, a research based powerhouse in Washington, D.C, has some ideas about future necessary changes.

  • To make government work better for the people it serves, any plan must include an evidence based, comprehensive report on government performance.
  • Eliminate “obsolete functions” in government by asking and answering the hard questions about what a certain function ought to be doing and what it is really accomplishing.
  • More effective analysis prepared by the Office of Government Ethics and the Inspector General could become a report card of sorts.
  • Paul A. Volcker’s decades-old recommendations on government reform should be revisited to help convince Americans to consider giving their wholehearted trust in what government does.

In my view, what could also help us move ahead together as a state of 5.6 million people and nation of 328 million in a world of 7.7 billion is to think and act like we are committed to building a better future for all.

Chuck Slocum is president of The Williston Group, a management consulting firm based in Minnetonka. He can be reached at Chuck@WillistonGroup.Com

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